Originally a Scootamart franchisee, Dave Smith, managing director of Beactive Mobility has built up a four-store retail fortress around Norfolk and Suffolk over the past 17 years. From bright beginnings to a dazzling future, AMP visited the Lowestoft flagship to learn how the independent retailer has leapt from one success to another.
Beactive Mobility has been around for 17 years and in that time it has developed from a Scootamart franchise into an independent retailer which outgrew itself within its first year of trading. It has moved premises three times since 2000 and now holds a major stake in the Suffolk and Norfolk mobility retail landscape. So successful has it been at securing business from its local competitors that its Lowestoft shop now boasts more than 240 mobility scooter customers who have turned to it for help after abandoning rival mobility services that couldn’t satisfy when it came to repairs or after-sales support.
But far from sit on its haunches, Beactive, as its name implies, is moving all the time to stay ahead of competition and continue growing organically. When AMP arrives at the Lowestoft flagship store, managing director Dave Smith is just returning from a digital marketing seminar — something he is determined to push within the business . He knows that the need to adapt with the times is essential when playing the mobility retail game. It’s clear that he means business.
Dave Smith, Q&A
What was it like for you breaking into the mobility industry?
My wife is a staff nurse in the private sector and found it was difficult for patients to get the things that they needed. That got us thinking. But it was difficult for us to get into the business initially. You had to have some kind of training and the only way we could get into it at the time was through a franchise, which was Scootamart. It was a good start, it gave us good training and was a good base to build from. We got solid training from OTs and engineers and we gradually built it up from there.
As we were getting to the end of our contract, the franchise we were in got taken over by venture capitalists and essentially they stopped importing scooters so we were basically doing what we do now but paying a royalty on it. So we didn’t sign again and in the end all the extra franchise collapsed because really we were running a regular store but just using a national name. Some people have tried that in the past — tried to use a national name — but it hasn’t worked. The franchise finished and we set up our own company. We took a loan out on our house, opened a shop and within a year we’d outgrown it.
What have been the key reasons for your growth?
There are two reasons really. One is the fact that we’re Motability accredited. While Motability do put things in place that are not always agreeable, some of the things they put in place are and they instil standards, which is a good thing. They make you put certain things into place and make you look at your business in a different light. They put processes and policies in place that make you work better and give the customer a better experience. That’s what the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is all about — being customer-focused.
“If there’s some sort of regulation in place I’m sure we’d knock away these people who are just out to make a buck rather than provide a service. You’re not a charity because you’re a business but you do have to provide a service”
On top of that, our success is down to our ethical approach. We’ve always had an ethical approach to our business, as outlined in our mission statement. We’re always ethical with our customers and with sales and repairs. You hear some horror stories in this industry and we think the sector should be regulated somehow. We hear stories of people who have bought things on the internet and they can’t assemble it or it’s not the right thing. People buy things online for which they’ve had no formal assessment. And online there’s rarely aftersales support.
You’ve just been announced as TGA’s dealer of the month. You must be doing something right when it comes to scooter sales…
Motability is a big part of that success. Not to say we don’t sell privately as well. In particular, the Zest has been a popular product and TGA brought it out at the right time of the year. Some scooter manufacturers will bring out a scooter in autumn and wonder why it doesn’t sell. It’s very seasonal. Chairs are very much winter time — in November it goes mad and we’re selling around two or three chairs a week.
There are a number of other independent and national retail chains in the area, what’s it like competing with these businesses?
Competing against a national like CareCo is difficult. The pricing structure they use in their business model makes it harder for us to compete. Local competitors, they’ve always been there, they always will. We set up against one of those that had been established for a long time and because of our growth they’ve got smaller but they’re still there. There’s one in Lowestoft that’s been open about five years. Funnily enough their opening woke us up to the fact that we needed to do more marketing and fight rather than just accept the fact they’d take some of our business. We found ways of learning how to market ourselves in a different way to combat our competitors and that’s been positive for us.
How do you aim to keep ahead of your competitors?
We keep ahead of competitors mainly though training. And once again, I’m not saying competitors are not ethical, but our ethical approach helps. While some firms in the UK may charge less for a service, for instance, they get their money back in another way — telling a customer their battery needs replacing, for instance. Whereas we will give the customer the graphs and show them their battery life expectancy and say it’s up to you whether you want to change your battery. We get repeat business through that. That’s how we get all those referrals, because the customer hasn’t been happy with the service they were getting with somebody else.
How difficult is it to get quality staff?
It’s very difficult. Our staff are very loyal and most of them have been with us a long time. Carl in the workshop has been with us 11 years and another engineer at our Norwich store has been with us the same amount of time. Shaun, our Motability manager been with us around eight years. It’s great that they are loyal because of the amount of time and money we put into training and because of the product knowledge you need to have to have to work in this business. Normally the suppliers will come in to train on big items like scooters or chairs. With small aids it’s just a matter of reading through a catalogue to see what’s coming out. We get good support from most of our suppliers. Primacare are really good, Kymco, TGA — Martyn from TGA is brilliant. Richard from Sunrise Medical and Gavin from Able2 are both great. And Richard from Freerider too.
What are the main challenges to your business?
One is the internet of course, which all retailers face. That’s a difficult one for us to address because we feel we can’t serve a customer properly unless we serve them face to face. You can do it on small ADL products but on larger items we feel an assessment should be in place. Although we don’t sell online at present, I won’t say we won’t at all because that’s the way of the world.
“If someone’s out there who wants to take it over in a few years we have a viable, profitable business with trained staff”
You can get a sale on a Sunday night when you’re not even open. That’s something we’ve definitely got to look at. The other side is regulation. If there’s some sort of regulation in place I’m sure we’d knock away these people who are just out to make a buck rather than provide a service. You’re not a charity because you’re a business but you do have to provide a service. And sometimes that could be at a cost to you. We’ve just lent an OT a powerchair to train someone. That cost us but that person might come back to us in the future. You help them.
How important are the smaller, lower value products to your business these days?
They’re very important. Cosyfeet in particular, they bring people to the store. And to start with that might be all they buy but eventually it could be a walking stick, then a rollator, then a scooter, then a chair. It’s a good starting point. But it can be very time-consuming selling a pair of shoes. It can take the best part of an hour and in the same time you could sell a £3,000 scooter. But then what does it lead to? You have to think about it in the long run.
What initiatives and plans do you have for the future?
Just to keep growing organically. You have absolutely got to keep your finger on the pulse and make sure you’re delivering that premium customer service so they keep coming back and recommending you to other people. I think for us, online is going to be something we have got to be looking at in much more detail. But we’re not looking to grow more in terms of physical stores. Myself and my wife are at an age where retirement is looming so we have got to be looking at an exit strategy at some point in the future — be that in three or five years time, we don’t know yet. But we’ve got no-one to take our place and we’re responsible for the staff and their wages and families and so we can’t just shut down, we need an exit strategy. If someone’s out there who wants to take it over in a few years we have a viable, profitable business with trained staff.
How do you think the landscape will change for mobility retailers in the coming years?
In regards to the opportunities, it depends on the NHS, I believe. There have been several things that they have tried, for example some services give customers a voucher to buy or to put towards a product. But I think if they delve deeper into the NHS they will realise that they can’t keep supplying mobility products to customers free of charge. They might have to send them to a mobility retailer who’s been accredited by the NHS to supply the product — someone they can trust who has been certified. For challenges, it will always be the internet and the pricing that internet retailers can offer.
Champagne and trade discounts as Beactive shows zest for scooters
Beactive Mobility was declared TGA Mobility’s Dealer of the Month in July following strong sales of the supplier’s Zest mobility scooters. The retailer, an A-Class TGA mobility scooter dealer with four showrooms in East Anglia, has earned exclusive trade discounts, free PR support and a bottle of Champagne for its sales performance with the TGA Zest and Zest Plus scooters.
Owner Dave Smith has steadily expanded the dealership with its Lowestoft store and head office moving to larger premises three times since it was founded in 2000. This flagship store has also been complemented by three further showrooms in Diss, Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Across the business Beactive employs 17 people.
“We are delighted to have won TGA Dealer of the Month as it recognises our ethical approach to business growth through provision of a proven brand,” comments Smith, Beactive’s managing director.
“Beactive Mobility only sells quality products, however the new TGA Zest and Zest Plus are exceptional in terms of value, comfort and drivability. Our customers are commenting that the finish and style is excellent and the seat is really comfortable. They like the stable ride and the easy manoeuvrability, add to this the choice of colours and you have scooters that are proving to be real winners for us. We feel confident promoting the Zest and Zest Plus as we trust their reliability and the customer satisfaction they generate. TGA’s thorough pre-delivery inspection process is a big factor in this. We are finding that TGA’s investment in producing product videos for social media is making a difference as many customers are coming into our stores looking for the brand. The Zest is excellent value and will continue to feature predominantly in our Motability open days.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Stone, TGA’s managing director says: “Congratulations to Beactive Mobility — Dave and the team fully deserve our Dealer of the Month award. They have proven if you combine quality products with customer-centric service you have a winning formula. The TGA Zest and Zest Plus epitomise our commitment to the trade in terms of supplying considered scooters that strengthen dealer reputations.”
Beactive Mobility has a strong relationship with its suppliers, not least mobility scooter specialist Freerider. Regional sales manager for the manufacturer, Rick Aldridge, who covers the South and East of England, explains how he looks to offer support above and beyond what retailers expect.
“We work hard to look after our customers and offer them not only the best product, but also the best service and care at all times, and in Beactive we can see that they share this same philosophy. It’s this combination that has allowed us to continue significantly growing business together,” explains Aldridge, before continuing: “As a supplier we differ from others by going the extra mile when it comes to supporting dealers, whether that be with attending and dedicating time and effort with company open days and Motability events, such as those we do with Beactive, to just being available quickly when a dealer has a question on a product.
“We understand that things can be time-critical, and being able to offer solutions or answers fast is what dealers need when they call on us,” he adds.
Aldridge is in the fortunate position of coming from a mobility retail background himself so has seen both sides of the desk. This allows him a better understanding of what dealers really want. “We are proud to be working so closely with dealers like Beactive, who we feel are excellent brand ambassadors for our range, and the sort of company that stands out.”